HC Deb 16 March 1998 vol 308 cc939-40
10. Mr. Miller

What plans he has to encourage the take up of digital TV. [32906]

Mr. Chris Smith

On 12 February, I published a consultation paper "Television: The Digital Future", in which we ask a range of questions relating to accelerating the take-up of digital services and seek views from broadcasters, receiver manufacturers, retailers, consumer organisations and the public.

Mr. Miller

My right hon. Friend will be aware of the difficulties faced by people in certain parts of the country who cannot get a decent analogue signal because of line of sight difficulties with transmitters. He will also be aware of the campaign conducted by my hon. Friends the Members for Wirral, South (Mr. Chapman) and for Wirral, West (Mr. Hesford) and me about the west coast of the Wirral peninsula. Will he ensure that the providers of the new digital services take into account the needs of people in such areas during the roll-out of digital television?

Mr. Smith

I understand the issue to which my hon. Friend refers. Several areas of the country do not receive good analogue signals because of particular difficulties. At its launch, digital television should reach 90 per cent. of the country, with about 81 transmission stations. I shall certainly bring my hon. Friend's point to the attention of the broadcasters. As digital rolls out, we want to ensure that it does even better than analogue transmission.

Mr. Evans

In his enthusiasm to ensure that people have several hundred more channels from which to choose, will the Secretary of State consider using the carrot more than the stick in the take-up of digital television? I am thinking of people on fixed incomes, such as pensioners, and perhaps even those who do not want to take up the offer of several hundred more channels. They should not be forced by the switch-off of analogue to take up digital television too soon; they should be able to carry on receiving only five channels—although some think that even that number is far too many. They should not be forced to spend money that they have not got to ensure reception of the current five channels.

Mr. Smith

The hon. Gentleman is clearly misinformed on one point. The hundreds of channels will be available on digital satellite and not digital terrestrial. Some 20 or 25 channels will be available on digital terrestrial. On the hon. Gentleman's substantive point, it is important that we ensure that people who at the moment receive analogue and who wish to carry on doing so for some considerable time will be able to do so, and that no one will be forced unnecessarily to purchase a digital set.